Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s entry covers a series with an incredible amount of freedom that has shaped the lives on many people today—and, like last week, fits nicely within June’s celebration of Pride Month.
#30. THE SIMS series, by Damien Lawardorn (additional commentary by Amy McKavanagh)
Aside from the likes of Golden Axe, Space Invaders, Double Dragon, Missile Command, and Shinobi on the Atari consoles and Sega Master System, The Sims is actually one of my earliest gaming memories. The recollection is little more than a vague flickering—the faint remembrance of a few hours of enjoyment at a friend’s place. What I do recall is feeling confused. In looks, the game was unimpressive, but, unlike anything else I had played, you were truly in control of what was happening. What a concept.
To say that early foray into Maxis’s weirdly wonderful world made me a convert would be a lie. For me those were the days of DOS games such as Aro and Descent, as well as Grand Theft Auto and Diablo. Since then, I have returned to The Sims series several times, intending to dabble and instead being drawn into its intricacies and curiosities for hours and days at a time.
Few other games can capture anything approaching the sense of agency and control inherent in The Sims. Whereas most RPGs, for example, can only claim to allow players to create their own stories, The Sims realises that promise. For the right player, the series is more than just entertainment—it is a creative outlet, allowing them to tell a family drama as involving as anything from a soap opera or Korean drama without ever needing to put pen to paper. The Sims, as an avenue of creative expression, is inspiring.
Few analogies are apt as that of a digital dollhouse, though the appeal is far broader than that comparison might suggest. Beyond the storytelling potential, gamers can find joy in making and remaking their characters, whether in their own image, in that of a celebrity, or some half-remembered person out of a fever dream. The number of ways to customise the appearance of the sims is enormous, and that is coupled with a considerable number of different personality traits that determine behaviour. The freedom goes further, for budding architects and landscapers can craft huts, gardens, mansions, even castles.
In case it is not yet clear, perhaps the most engaging, involving quality of The Sims (and one that has only increased over subsequent entries and, importantly, updates to those entries) is the escapism on offer. The Sims is about living vicariously, whether that means creating drama to spice up an otherwise dull life or having some life under your control when the real world feels too chaotic. At difficult times, the game can even be almost therapeutic: no story, no conflict, no need to think—simply switch off and zone out to a happier, more peaceful place where the Grim Reaper can be dated and people seem to think about llamas more frequently than can be healthy.
Of course, even with all its wonder and charm, The Sims is no stranger to controversy. Some gamers know the series best as a predatory money hole thanks to the proliferation of add-ons. The series (blessedly) has largely eschewed microtransactions, but no version of The Sims is truly complete without a handful of DLC. Different iterations have treated these add-ons in different ways, with The Sims 4 taking a three-tiered approach, with Stuff Packs, Game Packs, and Expansion Packs each broadening the base game in a unique way. The value of some packs is certainly questionable, but many are worth the cost.
Furthermore, those add-ons allow the game to take on a modular bent. Players can customise their game to suit their own ends. Interior designers can focus on the Stuff Packs. Micromanagers may find their poison in the ‘Get to Work’ expansion. Story gamers and sci-fi lovers can also get their kicks from the supernatural-focused Game Packs. A pack exists for every season.
The other major criticism of the series is the hard reset every time a new entry arrives. The extent of the add-on content really has no rival outside the MMO sphere, so to have all of that content made redundant every five years or so comes as a heavy blow. Worse still, according to some corners of the internet, are the trade-offs made for release. The Sims 4—despite the added nuance from the emotions system, the vastly improved Create-a-Sim and Build modes, and a handful of significant quality-of-life upgrades from its predecessor—was torn apart for missing such ‘key’ features as swimming pools and toddlers (though these examples were later added in for free).
Nevertheless, if current indications prove true, the entire structure of the series may be transforming. The Sims 4 has now been out for almost five years with no hint of a follow-up—longer than any of its predecessors. Maxis and EA have already pledged plenty of support for the game across 2019, with talk of continuing to produce new content until at least 2021. With the extended lifecycle, the need of a sequel comes into question, particularly with how well the series has kept up with the times, raising the importance of mobile phones with each new game, as well as more recently incorporating Influencer and Freelancer as career options.
For all that The Sims is and does, though, what makes it a favourite is that it is so fundamentally different from most other games on the market. Combining elements from tycoon games, visual novels, god games, and RPGs, along with a few wrinkles entirely of its own, the series is no power fantasy, no story adventure, not about making money or friends. The games, for the most part, have no goals beyond those the player sets for themselves.
It is a dollhouse, a sandbox, a cardboard box, a playset, a cubby house, a pillow fort—a space and a place where everyone can get in touch with the unbridled imagination of their childhood.
Thanks for joining us as take a look at one of the most creative video game series. Next week’s title is vastly different to The Sims, but very enjoyable in its own right. For the latest from the world of single-player gaming, be sure to bookmark OnlySP.com, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and join our community Discord server.